Is Cal­i­for­nia ready for a new state park?

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Cart

Gov. Gavin New­som has bud­geted $20 mil­lion to cre­ate Cal­i­for­nia’s first new state park in a decade, a pro­posal that was greeted with bipartisan sup­port. But with the park sys­tem facing a bil­lion-dollar main­te­nance back­log, how can the state en­sure that the beaches are clean, the toi­lets flush and some two mil­lion ar­chae­o­log­i­cal spec­i­mens are in safe hands?

It’s a fair ques­tion, with a long back­story. The gover­nor’s pro­posal is more than just a line item: It is a vote of con­fi­dence that an agency em­broiled in con­tro­versy eight years ago is ca­pa­ble of run­ning the state’s 280 parks. It’s been a long road back from when the De­part­ment of Parks and Recreation was un­der fire for mis­man­age­ment and faulty ac­count­ing.

“We needed to earn back the trust of the pub­lic, of de­ci­sion-mak­ers within the ad­min­is­tra­tion and of our own staff,” said Parks Di­rec­tor Lisa Man­gat. “It’s been a hard lift.”

Land ac­qui­si­tion has been on the de­cline, and con­ser­va­tion­ists say the tim­ing to add a new park is per­fect: State of­fi­cials say they are ready to take on the task of trans­form­ing a bu­colic land­scape into a his­tor­i­cal tableau that tells a story of Cal­i­for­nia’s past.

“It’s a big deal to se­cure and run a new state park. We haven’t had this type of op­por­tu­nity in such a long time,” Man­gat said. “We are proud. It’s an in­di­ca­tion of a pivot, and vote of con­fi­dence. We are thrilled.”

En­ter the N3 Ranch. Some con­ser­va­tion groups and elected of­fi­cials have long cov­eted the cat­tle ranch’s 80 square miles of wilder­ness in the Bay Area’s back­yard.

While state of­fi­cials are mum about specifics of the land un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for the new park, spec­u­la­tion has cen­tered on the 50,000acre ranch, a par­cel of un­du­lat­ing oak wood­lands draped across four coun­ties, fan­ning out in the hills above Liver­more.

“It’s a pris­tine prop­erty for wildlife and recreation within a few bus stops of mil­lions of people,” said Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Demo­crat. “This is a tar­get of op­por­tu­nity that may never come again in our life­time. A par­cel of this size and eco­log­i­cal value — it’s stun­ning. While there are deep needs in the parks sys­tem, we have to move when the op­por­tu­nity is there.”

Con­ser­va­tion groups are rais­ing mil­lions to help the state pur­chase the ranch, which is on the mar­ket for more than $70 mil­lion. At some point, the leg­is­la­ture might be asked to al­lo­cate more money to ac­quire the land. The con­di­tion of the land is un­known.

“It’s the be­gin­ning of the bud­get dance,” said Guillermo Ro­driguez, state di­rec­tor of the non­profit Trust for Pub­lic Land, which has raised money for the project. “State parks has done a tremen­dous job of turn­ing around their op­er­a­tion. They are in a good po­si­tion to get back into the ac­qui­si­tion pro­gram. Cal­i­for­ni­ans are de­mand­ing more parks ac­cess.”

The state would be tak­ing on ad­di­tional costs when it al­ready has $1.1 bil­lion in main­te­nance projects de­ferred due to lack of fund­ing. Cal­i­for­nia’s ex­pan­sive park sys­tem in­cludes beaches, light­houses, lakes, mon­u­ments, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, mu­se­ums and ghost towns.

The parks de­part­ment has a to-do list of nearly 4,000 projects, some fa­mil­iar to home­own­ers: paint­ing, plumb­ing, weed con­trol and roof re­pair. Other jobs are unique, such as $10 mil­lion to re­place life­guard tow­ers, $24 mil­lion to shore up a road at Del Norte Coast Red­woods State Park, $16 mil­lion to re­pair and re­place coastal ac­cess stair­ways at Carls­bad State Beach and $1,972 to sta­bi­lize vin­tage fab­ric on a his­toric sofa at Will Rogers State His­toric Park.

Man­gat said the de­part­ment keeps chipping away at the back­log, which she ac­knowl­edged is “sig­nif­i­cant.” Of the 400 new em­ployee po­si­tions the parks de­part­ment was re­cently awarded, “the largest num­bers went to main­te­nance,” Man­gat said.

CON­TRIB­UTED

A nearly 51,000acre prop­erty that spans four Bay Area coun­ties could be­come the state’s new­est state park.

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